December 02

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1900

    Above: Vere Foster, philanthropist and educationalist.

    Vere Foster (81), philanthropist, died. Appalled by the misery he encountered on his first visit to Ireland in 1847, the worst year of the Famine, Foster used his considerable wealth to devote himself for over 60 years to charitable causes. During the Famine (1845–9) he made three trips to the United States along with emigrants on crowded and disease-ridden ‘coffin ships’, his reports on which, to various parliamentary committees, led to such reforming legislation as the Passengers’ Act (1851). Then he turned to education, paying for several hundred new parish schools and the refurbishment of thousands of others throughout the country, and devising and publishing a series of widely used instructional handbooks. In 1868, to address the miserable circumstances of teachers, he founded what became the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation. In 1879, when famine threatened again, he assisted the emigration of some 25,000 young women to the United States and the British colonies. He spent the last 30 years of his life living in an attic on Great Victoria Street, Belfast, and died in virtual penury, having spent a fortune of c. £120,000 over his lifetime on charitable causes. There were less than a dozen at his funeral to the City Cemetery on the Falls Road. A largely forgotten figure nowadays, he was given some recognition by his adopted city in 2007 when a cross-community medical practice with a surgery on South Belfast’s loyalist Sandy Row and a sister surgery on the nationalist Falls Road was renamed the Vere Foster Medical Practice ‘in honour of a man who devoted his life to the social improvement of the Irish poor irrespective of creed or politics’.

  • 1984 A gas leak at a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, caused at least 3,787 deaths. It was one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

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